Tag Archives: gay

Libertarians Choose “Marriage Equality” over Individualism

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine offers some important considerations on the ruling’s lesser-known implications, specifically with regard to single people. She paints a rosy picture of how legal same-sex marriage will relieve the stigma on those who choose not to marry in the first place:

“Gay marriage has presented a challenge to straight marriage in part because it resists the mandate that everyone be straight married. It also, ideally, takes the great things about partnership—love, companionship, commitment—and makes them the basis of the institution.

[…]

The freedom to marry someone of the same sex is the freedom to not have to marry someone of the opposite sex, which in an ideal universe should be tied to the freedom not to have to marry, period.”

The author raises some good points, but while I agree that the Supreme Court ruling underscores a new social order that more readily accepts abstention from marriage, the legal inequalities will persist into the foreseeable future. Further, libertarians, who are best positioned to spearhead this issue, are conspicuously absent from the debate.

The goal of marriage equality, as most understand it, is inherently a farce. Equality is a property enjoyed by individuals, not by socially-constructed associations between those individuals. Even if we achieve total marriage equality, extending the government-conferred benefits of marriage to those partaking in any conceivable union (polygamy, bigamy, human-animal marriages, etc.), single people will always be denied those benefits. Singles will remain, as Bella DePaulo laments, “second-class citizens.”

The social conservatives, despite their faults, are the only ones to voice a consistent answer—albeit an unsatisfactory one, for several reasons—to this inequity. They maintain that promoting marriage serves a public interest through its role in sanctioning and facilitating procreation. They would oppose extending government benefits to single people for the same reason, purportedly, that they oppose extending them to gays and lesbians.

The proponents of same-sex marriage, however, cannot consistently oppose equality for singles. If they truly believe that love, companionship, and commitment should form the basis of the institution, they should want to end government privileges for married individuals altogether. While modern liberals could claim that government privileges for marriage are consistent with democracy in that majorities can grant privileges for whomever, whenever, this too would be inconsistent with their calls for equality.

The truly perplexing case here, however, is the plight of libertarian same-sex marriage proponents. Libertarians generally do not see (or care about) a public interest in the government promoting marriage, nor are they pure majoritarians. Rather, they often assert that government has no business sanctioning marriage at all; but this makes their vacuous celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling perplexing, since the ruling does not bring about libertarians’ ideal—it in fact reinforces the current government-marriage paradigm.

If libertarians truly wanted to achieve equality for all individuals, regardless of marriage status, why are they so fixated on the courts? A quick search of the libertarian Cato Institute’s website shows that it has filed amicus briefs in numerous high-profile cases like Hollingsworth v. Perry, Kitchen v. Herbert, Bishop v. Smith, and United States v. Windsor. But where was Cato in January of 2014, when Oklahoma legislators pushed to repeal government licensing of marriage altogether? Where were they when Oklahoma legislators tried this again in March of 2015? Where were they in April of 2015 when Alabama legislators made similar efforts? And where are they now that legislators in both Utah and Michigan have drafted bills to remove the government from marriage in those states?

Libertarians have called for “privatizing marriage” before, but their focus and tenacity in that regard has dulled, and these days the idea warrants only an afterthought. Some liberty-oriented groups, as well as several individual libertarians, grasp this challenge, but anyone who highlights these mistaken priorities, even merely implying that the courts are a counterproductive course, risks accusations of bigotry or homophobia, even from other libertarians. Why is there such hostility here?

My guess is that libertarians have for so long been relegated to the sidelines of American politics—nobody really cares about libertarians’ positions on boring ol’ fiscal policy, foreign policy, regulation, etc.—that when a popular social movement arises that (somewhat) comports with libertarian philosophy, they cannot resist latching on to it. Libertarians are so hungry for acceptance from mainstream voters, activists, and ideologues that they will follow this fad to the end of its rabbit hole, even if it takes them through the court system, and further ossifies the butchered notions of Due Process and Equal Protection that have so supplanted the original meaning of the Constitution, a document many libertarians claim is important.

Actions speak louder than words. Libertarians who yearn for true individual equality before the law should not celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision—at best, the decision is morally neutral. If they support true equality, they cannot ignore the plight of single people while remaining logically consistent. The only way to achieve true equality, for straights, gays, lesbians, singles, and everyone else, is to remove the government from marriage entirely. Any effort that does not do that is at best a waste of time.

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On Gay Marriage

When people raise issues of gay rights, most commonly they are pondering or pontificating about how our government should address homosexual couples who wish to be married. Since that question concedes the underlying premise, however, that the government should be involved with marriage in any capacity, we invariably resign ourselves to the wrong side of the issue.

I used to think that the problem of gay rights in the United States today was largely one of semantics. I used to think that homosexuals should have the ability to obtain government-sanctioned unions, as should everyone else, and that those unions should impart equal legal privileges upon all who hold them. I used to think that a “separate but equal”-style system, in which the institution of marriage could be preserved in its traditional state, would satisfy all parties involved. However, after pondering the evolving political climate surrounding this issue, I can no longer hold that view. It is quite clear that granting separate civil unions to homosexual couples will never bring about the kind of equality we desire, simply because marriage has intrinsic spiritual meanings which a mere civil union can never entail.

The solution pushed by the gay marriage lobby is simply to add another facet to the legal definition of marriage. This would allow homosexual couples to enjoy all the legal benefits of marriage, and it would allow them to enjoy all of marriage’s spiritual connotations.
Unfortunately, this solution doesn’t address the fundamental problem: a lack of equality. It simply adds another group of people to be graced by government. It doesn’t end the “legislation of morals” which so many leftists decry. It simply substitutes the legislation of one group’s morals for another.

We have to remember that rights are inherent to individuals, not to groups. Groups are social constructs, superimposed upon individuals. In ensuring rights for all individuals, the solution proposed by the gay marriage lobby falls short. Their solution only creates and expands privileges for groups. It is a quick, politically expedient, but inevitably flawed solution.

Re-examination of the fundamental problem reveals not an unfair distribution of privileges, but a complete disregard for any separation of church and state. The sanction of traditional marriage in our legal codes has caused two negative consequences: First, it has produced a legal system which unfairly discriminates against homosexuals. Second, it places the institution of marriage in the precarious position of being subject to public scrutiny, and the further entrenchment of traditional marriage pushed by conservatives through their various state/federal marriage amendments only intensifies the problem. On the other hand, the solution proposed by the gay marriage lobby would, in the eyes of many traditionalists, defile the institution of marriage. Is there not a solution which could satisfy all parties?

Let us consider the extreme logical outcome of the solution put forth by the gay marriage lobby: Even if we overcome the impossible political task of expanding the definition of marriage to include any and every conceivable kind of union between people, we will still have discrimination between those who are married and those who are not. If we expand privileges even further to include both married and non-married people, then we entirely defeat the purpose of having those privileges, and we find ourselves back at square one. In addition to being pointless, a situation in which everyone subsidizes everyone else could be harmless, if not for that fact that money must be skimmed off the top in order to pay the salaries of the bureaucrats administering these programs.

Given this lesson, I think the ideal solution would be to completely remove government from the business of marriage. Abolish all definitions of marriage from legal code, and abolish all privileges enjoyed by married couples. Allow couples to seek any kind of union they choose, from whatever private institution they choose. Leave questions of inheritance, hospital visitation, end-of-life care, etc. for individuals to decide through contracts. Let people be equal through liberty, instead of grasping at an ever elusive equality through privilege and restraint.

If the laws were changed this way, homosexuals could benefit spiritually, and all individuals would be legally equal. It would also insulate the religious community from political scrutiny, and allow heterosexuals to pursue marriages unadulterated by those who hold morals different from their own.

I think many of my fellow conservatives have lost their way on this issue. Reminiscent of leftists, they take the attacks of the other side personally. This is understandable, because traditional marriage, an institution they hold dear, is so ingrained in public life. However, it is nonetheless reprehensible. They allow their spiritual convictions to drive their political convictions. This disregard for individual liberty is the kind of behavior I expect from the left, but to see it come from the right is discomfiting, to say the least. To my conservative friends, I would offer this prescription: if you wish to stop the destruction of traditional marriage, then fight that campaign within the private square, because the continued entrenching of traditional marriage in legal code is an inevitably untenable position. The most constructive action you could take in the public square to save traditional marriage is to join in calling for its complete absence from the law.

As an atheist, I have no vested interest in protecting the institution of traditional marriage. However, I have a deep-seated interest in protecting liberty. I wish we could let that become a uniting factor among both traditional marriage and gay marriage advocates, instead of being driven by divisive emotions.

People should not be ashamed of their sexual orientation, and they should not be subject to institutionalized ostracism or mistreatment because of it. Love is a natural and important aspect of all our lives–far too important to place in the hands of government.